Blade of Fortriu: Book Two of The Bridei Chronicles

Blade of Fortriu: Book Two of The Bridei Chronicles

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by Juliet Marillier

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Blade of Fortriu is the second book in Juliet Marillier's Bridei Chronicles.

Five Winters have passed since young king Bridei ascended the throne of Fortriu. Five years, in which the people have felt a contentment unknown for generations.

But the security of a people can vanish in a heartbeat, for wolves are often drawn to fields filled with

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Blade of Fortriu is the second book in Juliet Marillier's Bridei Chronicles.

Five Winters have passed since young king Bridei ascended the throne of Fortriu. Five years, in which the people have felt a contentment unknown for generations.

But the security of a people can vanish in a heartbeat, for wolves are often drawn to fields filled with fattened sheep. Bridei is determined to drive the Gaelic invaders from his lands once and for all. And so, with his land secure and his house in order, he prepares for war.

And one of Bridei's plans to win the war to come involves the beautiful young Ana. A princess of the Light Isles, she has dwelt as a hostage at the court of Fortriu for most of her young life. Despite being a pawn of fortune, she has bewitched all at court and is dearly loved by Bridei and his queen. But Ana understands her duty. And so she will travel north, to make a strategic marriage with a chieftain she has never seen, in the hopes of gaining an ally on whom Bridei's victory relies.

For secrecy's sake, Ana must travel at a soldier's pace, with a small band led by the enigmatic spymaster Faolan. Bridei implores Ana to trust see the good in Faolan…but Ana cannot see beyond his cold competence and killer's eyes.

Then, when she arrives at the chieftain Alpin's stronghold in the mysterious Briar Woods, her discomfort and unease increase tenfold, for this is a place of full of secrets and her betrothed is an enigma himself. The more Ana tries to uncover the truth of her new life, the more she discovers a maze of polite diversions that mask deadly lies. She fears Faolan, but he may prove to be the truest thing in her world.

Or her doom.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Loyalties are tested and truth must be distinguished from dangerous lies in the gritty second book of the Bridei Chronicles (after 2005's The Dark Mirror), set in a land resembling early Scotland. Hoping to gain the support of nearby chieftain Alpin of Briar Wood in the fight against the invading Dalriada, King Bridei of the Priteni sends an offer and a bride: Ana, a fosterling "hostage" from the distant Light Isles raised in his court. Bridei's personal bodyguard and spy, Faolan, accompanies Ana on the arduous journey, saving her life and struggling to control his growing feelings for her. When problems arise at Alpin's rude court, Ana secretly finds solace with Alpin's mysterious brother, Drustan, long believed to be insane, who has been imprisoned for the murder of Alpin's first wife. Skilled world-building and characterization set Marillier's historical fantasy at the head of the pack. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
VOYA - Sarah Flowers
This sequel to The Dark Mirror (Tor, 2004/VOYA August 2005) takes place in the Pictish kingdom of Fortriu five years after Bridei has come to the throne and married his childhood love, Tuala of the Good Folk. Bridei is preparing to fight the Gaels in hopes of driving Christianity from the northern lands. This story, however, centers on the princess Ana of the Light Isles, who has lived as a hostage in Fortriu since she was a child. Now Bridei sends her to Briar Wood to become the bride of Alpin, a chieftain of the Caitt, whose assistance-or at least neutrality-Bridei hopes to secure in his war against the Gaels. Ana is escorted by Bridei's chief bodyguard and spy, Faolan. But Alpin is treacherous and cruel. Faolan finds it difficult to be objective as he falls in love with Ana. Ana fears Alpin and falls in love with his brother, Drustan, who is a prisoner in Alpin's castle, and Bridei must set out for war before all his plans are complete. This compelling and fast-paced novel focuses mainly on personal relationships. Ana and Faolan, introduced in the first novel of the Bridei Chronicles, are fleshed out here, becoming characters one genuinely cares about. Marillier really knows how to tell a story, weaving romance, history, war, politics, and occasional bits of magic into a page-turning tale.

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Tom Doherty Associates
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Bridei Chronicles Series , #2
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Blade of Fortriu

Book Two of the Bridei Chronicles

By Juliet Marillier

Tom Doherty Associates, LLC

Copyright © 2006 Juliet Marillier
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-1359-1


In a drafty passageway below the Dalriadan fortress of Dunadd, two men met in shadow. The place was well away from the eyes and ears of the Gaelic court there, and thus suited to covert exchange. The information to be passed was dangerous; in the wrong hands it could be deadly. The future of kingdoms depended on it.

"What do you have for me?" There was a pattern to such exchanges; the younger man, a lean, dark individual with a shuttered expression, fell into it with the ease of long practice.

"A name," said the other, a tall fellow clad in the russet tunic of King Gabhran's household retainers. "Bridei must move quickly and cleverly if he is not to be hemmed in from north and south."

"Spare me the analysis," the dark man said. "What name?"

"And in return?"

The dark man's lips tightened. "You'll get your information."

In the little silence that followed, the tall man glanced to left and to right along the shadowy way. All was quiet; moonlight, slanting in from the distant entry, allowed the two to read each other's features dimly. Under such a light it can be difficult to know if a man lies or tells the truth; it is hard to tell how far to trust. Both of these men were expert in such judgments, for a spy's existence is all calculated risk.

"One of the Caitt chieftains," whispered the tall man. "Alpin of Briar Wood. He commands an extensive personal army. The alliance could be sealed before next spring unless your people act to forestall it."

The dark man nodded. "Which of the other northern chieftains would support him? Umbrig?"

"In my judgment, no. But they are kinsmen. Alpin has a natural son fostered in Umbrig's household. As for the others, I can't say. The chieftain of Briar Wood has both allies and enemies among his own."

"I see."

"Your king would be well advised to make a speedy approach to Alpin," said the tall man. "You'd best have a quiet word in Bridei's ear."

The dark man's expression did not change. "I'm hardly in a position to do that," he said levelly. "I'm only a bearer of information. I'm not the king's confidant."

"That's not what I've heard."

"Then you've been misinformed," the dark man said.

"Now give me what you have."

The dark man's eyes had grown colder. "Gabhran should look to his eastern defenses," he said. "Should this matter of the Caitt not impede him, Bridei could be ready to make his major push against the Gaels next spring. There's a council planned for Gathering, with high hopes Drust the Boar will fall in behind Bridei at last."

The tall man grunted acceptance. The exchange of information was fair. What each man did with it was his own business.

The two parted without farewells. The dark man had a long way to go; the tall man was closer to home, and he walked back along the shadowy passageway and out under cover of trees with his mind on supper and a warm night in the bed of a certain accommodating woman.

A boy out fishing found him a few days later, his body swollen and distorted from immersion in a stream and bruised by the rocks under which it lay partly wedged. It was just possible to ascertain that he had not died from drowning, but had been expertly strangled by something strong and thin, such as a harp string.

As for the dark man, by then he was long gone from Dunadd, headed back across the border out of the Gaelic territory of Dalriada and into the lands of King Bridei of the Priteni. The bag of silver he had received from his Dalriadan masters had been hidden away. There would be another payment when he got to Bridei's fortress at White Hill. Considerable wealth now lay in his secret place, a resource he would surely never use, since he had neither wife nor children, brother nor sister to spend it on; at least, none he was prepared to acknowledge, even to himself.

He traveled with the speed and efficiency of a man who does not allow anything to distract him from his goal. It was unfortunate that his contact had required removal, but not unexpected. Pedar had not been stupid, and Faolan had known he would start to ferret out the truth about his own close relationship with Bridei eventually. He'd let his informant live until the danger of exposure was no longer outweighed by the value of what Pedar was able to supply. It was necessary that his Dalriadan masters believe Faolan entirely loyal to their cause. One must hope Pedar had kept faith with the delicate codes of covert intelligence, and had not shared his suspicions with anyone. At any rate, Faolan would need to stay clear of Dunadd a while, just to be sure. Perhaps Bridei would dispatch him to serve with Carnach's fighting men, preparing for the great war to come. Perhaps he might be assigned to Raven's Well, where another army readied itself for the final push westward into Dalriada. A little honest fighting would not be unwelcome. He had been dancing on the fringes of kings' courts for too long now, and was growing weary of masks. Ah, well; good speed, clement weather, and he should be back at White Hill before the moon reached full again. Perhaps, Faolan mused as he made his way up the track by the lake's edge, heading northeastward under the clear skies of a crisp spring day, he might simply return to his old role as personal guard. In the five years since Bridei was elected to the throne in somewhat unusual circumstances, nobody had got close enough to lay a finger on him or his wife. Faolan had made sure of that. Whenever he went away, he installed an infallible system of deputies to cover the period of his absence. All the same, nothing was quite as effective as his own presence by Bridei's side. He found, to his surprise, that this felt almost like going home.

* * *

ANA HAD BEEN a hostage at the court of Fortriu since she was ten and a half. After eight years, she recognized that what had once seemed a kind of prison, albeit one where the captive ate at the king's table and slept in fine linen and soft wool, had become more like a home. When Bridei built his new fortress at White Hill and moved the court of Fortriu, Ana moved with the rest of them. Bridei's wife, Tuala, was one of her closest friends. That, thought Ana as she guided the tiny, tottering figure of the king's son Derelei across the sheltered garden that lay within the fortress walls, presented a problem for Bridei. The whole point of taking hostages was leverage against their kinsfolk. She was here as surety against a possible revolt by her cousin, who was monarch of the Light Isles and a vassal king to Bridei. In those eight years, there had been no sign of unrest in her home islands, so it seemed her captivity had had the desired effect. On the other hand, there had been little interest shown by those at home in her welfare; her family seemed to have forgotten her. These days, it was White Hill that felt like home, and she could not imagine Bridei hurting her in any way, should her kinsmen suddenly take against him.

"Oops!" Ana exclaimed as Derelei's infant knees gave way and he collapsed abruptly onto his well-padded posterior. He looked momentarily surprised, seemed to ponder whether crying might be in order, then reached his arms toward her, offering a sound that meant "Up!"

"Come on, then." Ana lifted the child to her hip; he was small for his age and had something of his mother's fey looks, the skin pale as milk, the eyes wide and solemn. His hair was Bridei's, brown as a nut and already curling tightly.

Who would have thought it, back in the Banmerren days when they were students together? Tuala was married and a mother, and Ana was still here in Fortriu, unwed. Carrying the royal blood of Fortriu often felt more like a curse than a privilege, especially if one were a woman. In the lands of the Priteni, the royal descent came through the female line: kings were selected, not from kings' sons, but from the sons of women like Ana, those descended from an unbroken line of royal females. It made her a prize piece in the great game of political strategy. Whoever wed her could be the father of kings. Bridei, as king of Fortriu, would be the one who eventually made the decision as to where she would go and when. There might be a token consultation with her cousin, but with both her parents long dead, and her kin far away in the islands, she knew it would be Bridei's choice. When she was a little girl with a head full of stories, she had hoped for love. She knew now how foolish it was to expect that.

And yet, for some people, love could be everything. Look at Bridei and Tuala. Their marriage had seemed impossible. It had been frowned upon by the powerful Broichan, the king's druid and Bridei's foster father. Ana looked down at Derelei, who had a strand of her long hair clutched in his fist and was exercising his new teeth on it. He gazed back, eyes solemn as an owl's. He was his mother's son, all right; the legacy of the Otherworld was plain in the tiny face, the delicate hands, the unusual gravity. Bridei had done the unthinkable; he had married for love, and as a result, Fortriu now had one of the Good Folk as its queen. Ana smiled to herself. A fine queen Tuala was, strong, courageous, and wise. People had accepted her for all her difference, and her husband loved her with a devotion that was plain every time he set eyes on her. Nonetheless, Bridei was king, and conducted his business in a realm of powerful and dangerous men. When it came to it, Ana was just another useful piece in the game, kept in reserve for the moment when she might be deployed to best advantage.

"Mama!" Derelei stated with emphasis, releasing Ana's hair and turning his head toward the archway at the far end of the garden. It was a sunny spring day; the light touched the creeper that twined up the stone wall, making a pattern in shades of subtle green. There was no sign of anyone; no sound save the distant voices of men-at-arms about their business, and nearer at hand the chirping of small birds hunting for nesting materials. The child was intent on the archway, his body jiggling with anticipation in Ana's arms. She waited. A little later Tuala appeared through the archway with another woman behind her.

"Mama!" the small voice proclaimed, and the infant leaned forward at a perilous angle. Ana relinquished him into Tuala's arms.

"He knew you were coming," she said. "He always seems to know."

"Ana, see who's here!" Tuala said, settling herself on a stone bench with her small son on her lap. The other woman moved forward and Ana realized belatedly who it was.

"Ferada! How good to see you! Tell me all your news!" Ferada, daughter of the influential chieftain of Raven's Well, had shared part of her education with both Ana and Tuala back in the days before Bridei became king. Unfortunate circumstances, kept largely from public knowledge, had enforced her return home to oversee her father's household and raise her two young brothers, and it was a long time since she had visited Bridei's court at White Hill. Ferada looked older; older than she should, Ana thought. A mere two years' advantage over her friends should not be enough to have caused the weary lines that bracketed Ferada's mouth, nor the unhealthy pallor of her complexion. One thing was unchanged: Ferada's gown was immaculate, her hair carefully dressed, her posture fiercely upright.

"News?" Ferada echoed, clasping her hands together in her lap. "Nothing very exciting, I'm afraid. I've learned how to keep household accounts. I've managed to instill a little wisdom into Uric and Bedo with the help of visiting scholars—yes, Tuala, I took a leaf from Broichan's book on that score, knowing what an excellent job your old tutors did with you and Bridei. The boys are well; Bedo is good at his lessons and Uric has made steady improvement. Now, of course, they think themselves men and beyond such sedentary pastimes. It's all horsemanship and weaponry these days. Father seems to believe a stay at court will be educational for them."

"I always thought they were good-hearted little boys," Tuala said. Derelei had settled in her lap, fingers grasping a fold of her tunic; she stroked his curly hair with her small, white hand as she spoke. "So, does this mean Talorgen is seeking suitors for you, Ferada? You know there will be a major assembly before long; many chieftains will gather at White Hill to debate strategy for war. It is an opportunity ..."

"I expect anyone who expressed interest in me when I was sixteen will be wed by now," said Ferada. "If Father is looking about, it'll be among the older ones, those who are not so desperate to father large broods of children as rapidly as possible." She glanced at Derelei, then met Tuala's searching eyes and mildly amused expression. "Don't take offense, Tuala, you know I don't mean you and Bridei. Didn't the two of you wait an agonizing two years from betrothal to formal handfasting? The fact is, women like Ana and myself are viewed principally as breeding stock, and by twenty we're considered past our best. On that subject, I'm surprised to see you still here, Ana. Pleased, of course; I've missed you both terribly. But I would have expected you to marry years ago. There was certainly no shortage of interested suitors. You were a beauty at thirteen and you still are."

Ana looked down at her hands. "I understand Bridei does have someone in mind; a chieftain from the north, he said. Perhaps next summer. I do feel as if I've been waiting forever." The comment about "past our best" had disturbed her, but she did not want her friends to see this. As a daughter of the royal line, one must always put duty first, as indeed Ferada had done most admirably in returning home to five years as glorified housekeeper. During that time numerous opportunities had passed her by. At this rate they would be toothless old crones together, with not a husband or babe between them.

"In fact," Tuala said, "there have been some developments on that front. Faolan's back, and Bridei wants to speak to you later today, Ana. I understand it's to do with this chieftain, Alpin. I didn't press him for details; he wanted to talk to Faolan alone."

Ana shivered. "That man! I always wonder, looking at him, whose blood he has on his hands this time; what dark corner he's been lurking in. I don't know how Bridei can trust him."

Tuala gazed at her. "I've never known Bridei's judgment to be faulty," she said quietly. "Misinformation, deception, sudden death, those are the essence of Faolan's work. He is of great value principally because he does those things so expertly, and without qualms."

"He turned against his own people," Ana said. "I don't know how anyone could do that."

"No?" Ferada lifted her brows. "What about you, living contentedly at the court of the folk who took you hostage when you were too young to know what it meant? Making yourself at home among people who have denied you the chance to grow up among your family? That's not so different from Faolan gathering information among the Gaels."

"Shh," Tuala said. "Ferada, I admire your outspokenness, I always did. But you're at White Hill now; you should moderate your speech a little, even among friends. Ana should not judge the king's assassin, and you should not judge Ana. A great deal has changed at court since Drust the Bull took her hostage. Indeed, she can hardly be called that anymore; I view her as something more like a sister."

"All the same," Ferada said, "I notice Bridei hasn't sent her home."

Home, Ana thought, as a cloud of misery settled over her. The Light Isles. In the early days she had longed to go back to that realm where the lakes held the pale light of the open sky and the green hills folded gently down to pastureland. The place of her childhood was full of ancient cairns and mysterious stone towers, sudden cliffs and drifts of wheeling seabirds. Yet now, if Bridei sent her there, she thought it would seem like another exile. As for the other option, the one that now loomed as real and immediate, it made her cold with misgiving. The Caitt were of Priteni blood, as were her own island people. She thought of the only Caitt chieftain she had seen since her childhood: Umbrig of Storm Crag, a man like a big bear, fierce and uncouth. Umbrig had appeared unexpectedly at the election for kingship and had cast his vote for Bridei, helping him win out over Drust the Boar, monarch of the southern Priteni realm of Circinn. Folk said the Caitt were all like that, huge and ferocious. Ana shrank from the notion of sharing such a wild man's bed.


Excerpted from Blade of Fortriu by Juliet Marillier. Copyright © 2006 Juliet Marillier. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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